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British Arctic Territory Flag Hoax

Last modified: 2015-12-17 by rob raeside
Keywords: british arctic territory | hoax |
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British Arctic Territory flag hoax and blue ensign

[British Arctic Territory hoax]  Ensign by António Martins, badge by Clay Moss

The BAT story - as best as I can remember it.

I have had a particular interest in British blue and red ensigns ever since I started flag collecting. I believe this interest started when I was a youngster living in Hawaii. I remember seeing a giant sailing yacht anchored in Honolulu. It was flying a large British colonial Fiji red ensign. The ensign was so striking to me, that it sparked me to find out all I could about British territorial flags and ensigns. As I became more intellectually involved in Vexillology and Vexillography, I thought it would be neat to design a colonial British ensign badge. Realistically though, I had two things working against me. First, I wasn't British and had no connection to the Ministry of Defence. Second, the empire was shrinking anyway, and the prospect of designing a colonial badge was remote at best.

However, inspiration for making up a British territory and its flags came to me in early 1995 while I was looking at a rather sizable map of Ellesmere Island, Canada. The north part of the island was basically a territorial park except for a stumpy thumb shaped peninsula sticking out on the north east end of the island. When I saw this peninsula, I knew I had found my territory. I was vaguely aware of grievances Arctic natives had concerning their status as Northwest Territory citizens. Based on what little knowledge I had, I fabricated a story about native desires to rejoin the British empire because the empire had given them more freedom. I went on to say the Canadian Government was tired of the whole issue and was glad to let the "BAT" rejoin the empire. And then of course, I proceeded to create a set of British flags and ensigns. The badge came to me fairly quickly. I was torn between defacing the badge with a polar bear or a narwhal. I determined most people would not know what a narwhal was and decided on the polar bear. The light blue background behind the polar bear represents the clear polar skies while the wavy lines represent the Arctic Ocean.

Now the question was, what to do with all the stuff I had made up. It then occurred to me. April Fools was just around the corner. Why not publish the BAT article as an April Fools joke in Hot CofFEE, the quarterly publication of the Confederation of Flag and Ensign Enthusiasts - Mississippi? When I took the idea to other members, I got mixed opinions as to whether we should go to print or not. I said I wanted to print for a couple of reasons. First, it would be fun, and would get a laugh from anyone with a healthy robust sense of humor. Second, the organization I worked for subscribed to an information firm. This particular firm (whose name I will not mention) supplied us with all sorts of up to date global information relating to our work. It did not take me long to realize that much of the information we received was erroneous. I suspected our info firm was doing a poor job verifying information before sending it out. In a nutshell, I wanted to send the article and newsletter to other vexi-publications as an April Fools joke, and our info firm to see if they would circulate the BAT story without getting verification. Everyone agreed to go to print provided I made it obvious the article was a joke.

This is where I made a mistake. I believed the story in and of itself was so absurd, that no one would fall for it. Thus, I gave very little indication of a hoax except for the date and an archaic British reference to April Fools. As it turned out, I was mostly right about my flag friends being tricked. As soon as my vexillological buddies received the article, inquires began to trickle in regarding the validity of the story. With each inquiry, I was completely candid and told them it was a joke. Bruce Berry, representing the SAVA journal questioned the story as well. I responded to him via fax, as there was no e-mail in those days. I assumed the fax got through since my machine said it did. I found out later my fax never made when SAVA went to print with the story. It was embarrassing for us both, but no permanent damage was done. A few humorless or overly serious flag folk responded to the hoax by articulating their displeasure, but collectively everyone enjoyed it.

As I stated earlier, for 4 days after being asked if my story were true, the British Government would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the territory. The Canadian government contacted me as well, not to tell me I was mistaken, but for verification of the story. The US government also briefly added the BAT to its "official" list of nations and territories. It took quite a bit of effort to convince them the territory didn't really exist. I never dreamed the hoax would have this kind of affect. The only explanation I have for the US government's action is the information firm I referred to earlier. Sure enough, said info firm sent out word that the BAT had in fact been created. I suspect Uncle Sam picked up on it. Our organization soon dropped its subscription.

Since the BAT hoax of 1995, the "territory" has taken on a life of its own. There is quite a BAT cult following. Folks of all sorts have become territorial citizens. There is one perquisite for citizenship. One has to be an all round nice person. I have also gotten a couple of comments on the irony of my making up the BAT story proceeded by the actual formation of Nunavut.

Several flags and ensigns have been added to the original four created in the beginning. There is now a Queen's standard, Lieutenant Governor's flag, Ambassadors flag, and a Naval Auxiliary ensign and a Civil Air ensign. The BAT will not recognize the new "large badge" flag designs the MoD has come up with. All BAT badges will be sized according the traditional 4/9 standard. On the blue ensign, the BAT badge will appear on a disk.

As a side note, the BAT passport is honored provided one is selective with where they use it. Also, my BAT drivers license is honored in quite a few countries I have driven in. In fact, it was the only driver's license I carried the last year I lived in Romania. It worked like a charm. I will put all the BAT's ensigns and flags up on the web sometime soon.
Clay Moss
, 15 March 2003

You may like to know the progress of events on this [British] side of the Atlantic, concerning the BAT. At the time, Clay Moss was producing a flag magazine called Hot CofFEE. It was the journal of the Confederation of Flag and Ensign Enthusiasts. In its 1 April issue, it showed the flag of the BAT and added that there was a Union Flag with the badge in the centre and also a red civil ensign.

Not noticing the date (as it reached me some time after publication) I took the story more or less at face value except for one detail. I found the civil ensign a bit hard to believe, as these are not awarded automatically, as are the blue ensigns. I contacted my naval colleague, Malcolm Farrow (now Chairman of Flag Institute). He had not heard of the place, but contacted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Their Antarctic Desk had not heard of it either. They then called the Canadian High Commission in case they knew about it, which of course they did not. At about the same time, one of Hot CofFEE's American readers, called the Canadian Embassy and again found no-one who knew of it. Nor did the Canadian Permanent Mission at the UN Headquarters. He contacted the US State Department and of course, they did not know either, but did the sensible thing and called the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It was two days later before I noticed the date on the magazine and realised this was a spoof. I at once phoned Malcolm and told him and he passed on the information. Even so, for about 3-4 days, two foreign offices and part of the United Nations were chasing each other's tails in ever decreasing circles over this. Apparently no-one noticed the significance of the date.
Michael Faul
, 12 October 2002

Marvellous to see that the bounds of the Empire have, even today, yet to be set. The British Arctic Territory is a most welcome addition to Her Majesty's overseas possessions.

One or two queries about the flags, however. I note that they were originally designed in 1995, some four years or so before Graham Bartram, I think it was, was instrumental in designing new flags for the dependent territories. These later flags bear a larger badge in the fly than their predecessors, something which appears not to have been taken on board up there in the Arctic wastes. Secondly, the blue ensign has its badge set in a white disc, a practice long frowned upon officially and, apparently, now only followed in the dear old B.A.T.

Of course, I may well be barking up the wrong iceberg and am, as ever, perfectly happy to stand corrected. Oh, and by the by, it does strike me as faintly eccentric that the B.A.T. appears to be governed from Penang. There again, Pitcairn is governed from Auckland, so what the hell?

My loyal felicitations to His Excellency.
Peter Johnson, 1 April 2005

Ah, through an oversight the Blue Ensign was included in the Statutory Instrument which established the Territorial Flag and Civil Ensign, and this, 'The British Arctic Territories (Colours) Order 1995', made on 1 December 1995, laid before Parliament on 7 December 1995 and effective 1 January 1996, showed the shield on a white disk. Since Article (2) stated that: "The positioning and proportions of the defacement shall be in accordance with the illustration in the Schedule hereto", it became and remains the law. Since the flags of the British Arctic Territories were established by Her Majesty under powers granted by Act of Parliament, placed before that body and ratified by them, they have become enshrined in Statute Law in the form originally established, and may not be altered by any later decision of a Civil Servant or committee.
And I still say there should be a rock below the polar bear's feet.
Christopher Southworth, 3 April 2005

The position taken up by the party opposed to British rule - Independent People Against Imperial Rule - IPAIR, of which there are naturally only two members there being only one pair. However, don't be misled (by this small number) into thinking that British rule is overwhelmingly popular throughout B.A.T., since the two persons mentioned represent a rather large percentage of the Territory's indigenous population. It has also been suggested (although by a person who has since 'been shot whilst trying to escape') that the bear is standing upon the promises made by Her Majesty's Government with regard to future independence?

And to avoid the fate of this latter gentleman, let me stress again that I suggested the bear should stand upon a rock (which let me hasten to say) is how I see the integrity of HMG.
Christopher Southworth, 3 April 2005

Perhaps it should be standing on an ice flow?
James Dignan, 3 April 2005

The iceflow unfortunately melted leaving the poor creature wallowing in mid-air, however as I explained earlier (in order to avoid a midnight visit from the hit men of the Colonial Office) the rock is symbolic of the 'solid' commitment of Her Majesty's Government to (eventual) independence for the British Arctic Territories. In any case, rocks are a stock item at the College of Arms, whereas ice flows have to be ordered in specially.
Christopher Southworth, 3 April 2005

I am deeply deeply crushed that Christopher continues to make fun of such a sacred emblem as BAT's bear. Tears flow from my eyes as I write this. I don't know what I was thinking when I made the bear hover, but it's not his fault, so leave him alone. I now wonder if Britain's heralds of the past were so incessantly harassed when they failed to have the lions standing on rocks or something else in the badges of North Borneo, Cyprus, Indian Local Maritime Government, Kenya, Rhodesia, Rhodesia & Nyasaland, and Tasmania. Or, is it heraldically permissible to have hovering lions?
Clay Moss, 4 April 2005

I wouldn't have you upset for the world Clay, and hereby unreservedly withdraw any and all remarks which may have caused you (and the bear) distress.
Christopher Southworth, 5 April 2005

Blue Ensign Accompanying Jack

[British Arctic Territory hoax] image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 1 April 2013

Technically, the BAT Blue ensign may be accompanied by a jack along with the Royal Fleets Auxiliary ensign.
Clay Moss
, 21 October 2008

Red Ensign

[British Arctic Territory hoax] by Clay Moss

All right, who pinched the rock from beneath the bear's feet? When I last paid a ceremonial visit to the Governor there was a rock - not a very big rock I'll grant you, but a rock nevertheless - and when I asked Sir Peregrine what it meant he replied (and these were his exact words) "I'm blessed if I know, but the dratted creature has to stand on something don't y' think?"
Christopher Southworth, 1 April 2005

Now Chris - why did you not suggest to Sir Peregrine that the bear stand upon an iceberg? Would that not be more appropriate given the climatic conditions here?
Martin Grieve, 1 April 2005

Strange as it sounds, I did (in fact) make the same suggestion to Sir Peregrine over dinner that evening, "my dear fella" he replied, "the rock is to indicate HMG's interest matters geological, and is a punning reference to our motto 'a rolling stone gathers no moss' don't y' know" - or as I've since learned to put it more accurately 'a rolling Moss gathers no stone'.
Christopher Southworth, 1 April 2005

[British Arctic Territory hoax] image by Miles Li and Clay Moss, 1 April 2011

Today is, of course, British Arctic Territory Day, and I am making my first ever visit to BAT. In Alert Harbour I have spotted several examples of the BAT Red Ensign with the shield placed not directly onto the field, but inside a white disc (a la the BAT Blue Ensign). Baffled by this erroneous variant, I made my enquiry at one of Alert's flag stores. The store owner told me that there has been a number of unfortunate incidents in which the official BAT Red Ensign was mistaken by Canadian authorities as the provincial flag of Ontario or Manitoba, or even the former Canadian Red Ensign; to avoid further confusions the BAT Red Ensign now has the shield placed inside a white disc.

"Actually," the store owner explained, "these flags are imported from the Glorious Nation of China. The manufacturers find it easier to simply print the shield onto the white disc and then stitch it onto the good old Red Duster."
Miles Li, 1 April 2011

White Ensign

[British Arctic Territory hoax] by Clay Moss

Air Force flag

[British Arctic Territory hoax] by Clay Moss

The BAT Air Force flag and Civil Air Ensign were introduced on 12 March, 1996. I'm aware that the bears are still hovering, but in this case, it's most appropriate. The bear in the Air Force flag is red from sunburn at high altitude, and it coincidentally makes the BATAF flag appear to be related to the RAF flag. Before the sunburn incident, the roundel appeared to be sort of Scottish.
Clay Moss, 6 April 2005

Civil Air Ensign

[British Arctic Territory hoax] by Clay Moss

I'm aware that some will believe that the arms of the cross on the BAT's civil air flag are too skinny. They are if compared to Britain's Civil Air Ensign. However, my illustration corresponds exactly in specification to the UK Civil Air Ensign in my collection.
Clay Moss, 6 April 2005

BAAF Air Wing Commander

[British Arctic Territory hoax] by Clay Moss

It has become necessary to identify the stationing of air wing commanders as BAAF units are deployed globally. The BAAF wing commanders flag also became
official yesterday 1 April, 2006.
Clay Moss, 2 April 2006

Royal Fleets Auxiliary

[British Arctic Territory hoax] by Clay Moss

Our version of the Royal Fleets Auxiliary is hoisted over only one ship at the moment. The HMS Narwhal currently serves with distinction here in the Straits of Malacca and has recently assisted in minor humanitarian relief duty. Like many Confederate Naval ships, the Narwhal has never seen its own home waters. I will send a picture soon, but you must promise not to laugh.
Clay Moss, 6 April 2005

[British Arctic Territory hoax] image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 1 April 2013

Technically, the BAT Blue ensign may be accompanied by a jack along with the Royal Fleets Auxiliary ensign.
Clay Moss
, 21 October 2008

Trinity House

[British Arctic Territory hoax] image by Miles Li, 1 April 2015

Apart from providing the same services as its English counterpart (lighthouses, buoys, deep sea pilots), it also operates an all-important fleet of icebreakers. Unlike its English counterpart though, vessels of the British Arctic Territory Trinity House does not have its own ensign, but fly the normal British Arctic Territory Blue Ensign instead.
Miles Li, 1 April 2015

The BATTH has applied for permission to use their flag as a jack when their fleet of ice breakers is at sea and in port. The DoV should rule on the request at any time.
Clay Moss, 1 April 2015

Here is the reply from the Admiralty:
"Please be advised that it is not necessary to seek official permission for BATTH icebreakers to fly the BATTH flag as a jack. It is a long-standing and accepted custom for ships to fly their appropriate house flags as jacks while in port or while dressing ship, and there is no law preventing the BATTH from doing the same."
Miles Li, 1 April 2015

Dear Prime Minister,
   We are in receipt of your request of today’s date with regard to the flying of the territory’s flag as a jack by vessels in Government service, and would draw your attention to the Warrant which authorized the flying of a defaced blue ensign by such vessels. This warrant specifically also authorizes the flying of an accompanying defaced blue jack. It should be noted that such jacks are traditionally square with a defacement as per their accompanying ensign.
   Trusting that this is sufficient for your requirements, I remain,
   Respectfully yours on Behalf of Her Majesty’s Government
Christopher Southworth (DoV author), 1 April 2015

10th Anniversary Flag

[British Arctic Territory hoax] by Clay Moss, 8 April 2005

We know the 10th anniversary flag is a defaced Alabama flag or code letter V flag, and there is some coincidence there. In this particular case, the saltire represents the Roman numeral 10. This flag will fly below all BAT flags on land until 31 March, 2006, and will serve as a jack at sea for the same period..
Clay Moss, 8 April 2005

Actually, this is not a BAT flag, but the flag of the Spanish Arctic Regiment (ca.1613-1649), and follows the Burgundy cross design of most pre-1843 Spanish regimental units.
Santiago Dotor, 10 April 2005

20th Anniversary Flag

[British Arctic Territory hoax] image by Clay Moss, 31 March 2015

It has been a festive albeit subdued day of celebration among BATters as tomorrow, we celebrate 20 years as the world's most northerly territory.

The attached 20th Anniversary flag was designed Mr. Harry Thistle, a Scottish gentleman, and thus the Scottish symbolism. However, that is not the entire story. The BAT has just recently found out that if Scotland had voted for independence, and separated from the UK, that Scotland was going to be ceded the BAT, and our new name effective today would have been the Scottish Arctic Territory. The attached flag was still going to be introduced as the territory's 20th Anniversary flag, but our new territorial flag was going to be a Scottish saltire defaced with the BAT shield on a white disk.

Needless to say, that all citizens of the British Arctic Territory are very upset that we were kept in the dark about the very possibility. As I write this, there is talk of a Rhodesian style Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Let's hope it doesn't come to that!
Clay Moss, 31 March 2015

BAT Fire Service

[British Arctic Territory hoax] by Clay Moss, 1 April 2007

Here, we have the ensign of the BAT Fire Service. Currently, the fire service consists of a guy named Bob who has an extra fire extinguisher in his office in case of emergency. However, in the mock territory world, there are plans under way to build up the fire service considerably. First, the government of the UK will be donating a fire truck for use in the event of a major fire in or around Alert. It will be stationed out by the airfield. Secondly, there is talk of the territory trying to get its hands on equipment that would effectively turn the HMS Narwhal into a fire fighting boat. Thus far, the students currently governing the territory haven't figured out where that extra cash will come from.
Clay Moss, 1 April 2007

[British Arctic Territory hoax] image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 1 April 2008 and 1 April 2012

Bob obviously can't fly the BAT Fire Service Ensign from his office, as that could only be flown from HMS Narwhal in its capacity of a fire fighting boat. The Garter King of Arms proposed 3:5 as the ratio for quartered flags, and the Alert Pursuivant of Arms Extraordinary would not go against him for the British Arctic Territory Fire Service Flag.
Clay Moss
, 21 October 2008


[British Arctic Territory hoax] image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 1 April 2013

There is a Fire Service jack (Fire Service flag squared) for those times when the HMBATS Narwhal is serving as a fire boat.
Clay Moss
, 21 October 2008

Updated Jack (2014)

[British Arctic Territory hoax] image by Clay Moss, 1 April 2014

This jack follows the Gambian fiasco - see Ambassador's ensign, jacked.

Civil Defence

[British Arctic Territory hoax] image by John Cachrie Campbell, 9 November 2015

Concluding note

Someone asked what my status with territorial government was after 1 April. I no longer have any say in the daily affairs of government, but am vested with the authority to abolish government any time I deem it necessary. What would be the official name for that position?

[Lord Protector? (with apologies to the shade of Oliver Cromwell). - André Coutanche]

It's not likely that I would ever exercise said authority, but if the government tried to do something radically inappropriate like joining Al Qaida, building a nuclear war head, or making disco the official style music for the territory, I can step in and nip it in the bud.

Clay Moss, 8 April 2005